Sennett Middle School (copy)

Students and a parent cross Pflaum Road outside Sennett Middle School in Madison.

Wisconsin State Journal archives

Full-time teacher salaries declined by an average of about $2,000 after Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10, restricting collective bargaining rights for most public employees, according to a study from a conservative legal group.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty report released Tuesday called the average inflation-adjusted base pay decrease  "statistically significant." Over the same period, the average years of experience for state teachers dropped less than a year, to 14.2 years of experience.

Researchers said Tuesday they did not determine what caused the salary decrease, but that new teachers making less starting out likely had some impact. 

WILL officials suggested the base salary data, obtained from the Department of Public Instruction, didn't tell the whole story because it doesn't account for bonuses and merit pay increases that have surfaced in some school districts since the law was enacted. 

DPI doesn't collect salary data beyond base pay.

The study looks at class sizes, student-to-teacher, student-to-administrator and teacher-to-administrator ratios in suburban, rural and city school districts, teacher pay and the demographics of teachers between 2009 and 2014, using data from the Department of Public Instruction and school district data from the U.S. Department of Education.  

The study's researchers, Marty Lueken of the free-market Friedman Foundation, WILL's education research director Will Flanders and WILL's vice president of policy CJ Szafir, said Act 10 did not have a "significant" impact in those areas except in the number of administrators per student, which increased. 

WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the study was intended to look at the effects of Act 10 about five years after it enacted in 2011 and to test claims by critics of Act 10. 

The study says that the average salary and fringe benefits were $2,095 and $5,580 lower, respectively, when averaging the salary level of the three years before Act 10 and during the three years after the law passed. 

"Observing a decline in fringe benefits after Act 10 is not surprising because the law limited the ability of school districts to pick up employee contributions for pension and health benefits," the study said. "In addition, districts were no longer obligated to enroll their employees in teacher-sponsored health plans. Therefore, districts could shop around for other plans, which allowed many districts to lower costs."

The study said while "the decline in teachers’ salaries may seem substantial" the state's average teacher salaries still ranks in the top half of states in teacher pay. 

DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said because the Republican-controlled Legislature has cut funding for schools and set limits on the amount of money districts can raise officials have fewer dollars to spend on pay.

But state Superintendent Tony Evers, who holds a nonpartisan office but is backed by Democrats, said the drop in base pay could contribute to a looming teacher shortage.

"We are facing a looming teacher shortage and it is due in part to the way we portray the profession," said Evers in a statement. "That must change and it has to happen soon. You would be hard pressed to find someone celebrating a $2,000 reduction in annual pay for welders, doctors, or engineers."

Betsy Kippers, president of teachers union Wisconsin Education Association Council, issued a statement that didn't address the findings regarding teacher pay. But she questioned the report, saying that WILL receives millions of dollars from the Bradley Foundation, which is headed by Walker's campaign chairman Michael Grebe.

Kippers called the report "mere propaganda bought and paid for by the same groups that pushed nearly $1 billion in cuts to our neighborhood public schools over the past five years."

"Those of us who teach, parent and live in real-world Wisconsin see the truth every day through our children’s eyes -- there are fewer teachers in our classrooms, tax dollars are being taken out of our neighborhood public schools to subsidize private school tuition and we’re facing a teacher shortage as a result of a smear campaign of epic proportions," said Kippers. 

In a statement, Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the law has not only saved taxpayers money, but WILL's report showed "those who predicted doom were wrong."

"Our schools are well positioned for success while our state is experiencing economic growth and 15-year low unemployment," said Evenson.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.